LATHROP – You’d notice that big, toothy grin anywhere.
Hit just about any supermarket in the Central Valley and look for something to marinate your chicken or steak in and there he is – the ear-to-ear smile that has made him the eccentric staple of a community that he has long called home.
There was a time, not long ago, when you could see that smile on display twice a month at Lathrop City Hall – where he exhibited preacher-esqe qualities and a unique blend of rags-to-riches realism.
Yes, Joseph “Chaka” Santos was everywhere. He was the favorite son of a town that he wanted to save by entering local politics – by stepping up and doing something rather than sitting on the sidelines.
While his public persona may have faded away a bit since he lost his bid for reelection to the mayor’s seat in 2012, the product that launched his career– the product that he marketed with his face and his moniker on the bottle and named it after the universal sound people make when biting into quality food – lives on.
uChris Lawrence, Lathrop’s Senior Center Director, wanted to work with the Senior Advisory Commission to come up with an idea that would both draw people to the community and provide something fun for residents to do. So they came up with the idea for a BBQ competition, and the idea has been off and running – and growing – ever since. Lawrence has grand visions for the event, and has added a myriad of things since it came to fruition – eating competitions being the most popular.
uReverend Lu Davis – one of the members of SAC that was instrumental in organizing the BBQ competition, grew up the son of a Texas BBQ restaurateur and learned the tips and tricks of the business. Ribs. Brisket. There’s a science to all of it, and Davis calls it “cueology” – the science of grilling or time at the ‘cue.
uIf a non-profit needed a rolling barbecue more often than not something simple will do the trick. But the Lathrop Manteca Firefighters Association Local 4317 doesn’t do simple. The group, which grills up hot dogs during big public events when food is provided, has a full-on, towable, walk-in trailer that they can actually double up as a rest and refueling station for medical emergencies.
Santos has had two restaurant ventures – one in Cardoza center on the corner of Main Street and Louise Avenue in Manteca and the other inside of the Mar-Val Foods in Ripon. Both had gained a steady following but were eventually forced to clothes.
His commitment to the community or the belief that people can bond through food, however, has not.
On events like National Night Out – which takes place in August – Santos offered up free food to anybody that showed up to his home on Long Barn Drive.
For years the parties were regarded as Lathrop’s premiere social event – the kind of place where people went to be seen – and served as an opportunity for Santos to show off what he could do with a grill.